In Part 1 I went over the details of the content offerings that Crunchyroll provides and in Part 2 I evaluated the technical details of the Crunchyroll website. This part looks at Cruncyroll from the perspective of a service and how that service can be used when separated from a computer.
The problem with using the internet as a source of video content is that we lose the big screen experience we are used to in our living rooms. In some ways internet video is a regression because it involves smaller screens, uncomfortable chairs, and in most cases the impossibility to watch in large groups. So how can Crunchyroll be brought from the internet to a television? Read on!
Alternative Viewing Methods
The main problem with streaming media is how difficult it has been getting the content onto a television. Youtube and Netflix have made huge efforts to try and get on living room set top boxes but most of the large players in the space have been slow to find an easy way getting content on to a larger screen. Crunchyroll is no different. Low powered hardware has trouble displaying the streaming videos on a large screen so my First generation MacBook wasn’t able to output the picture properly. The PlayStation 3 could play the SD content but any of the other size produced an unwatchable frame rate.
The only current solution to getting Crunchyroll on a television is to build, or buy, a Home Theater PC and install boxee. While you could just navigate to the website Boxee offers a much better “lean back” user interface designed for use with just a wireless keyboard or a Windows Media Center remote. However, building a HTPC is still an extra expense and I’d much prefer Crunchyroll to partner with Sony, Microsoft, Roku, or any of the many set top box manufacturers and make access to their content cheaper and easier. Until then Boxee is a fantastic, if expensive, solution to the problem. D-Link is developing a special box designed specifically for Boxee and when that comes out it’ll be much easier and cheaper to implement a Boxee system.
The one problem with Boxee is there is no setting to adjust the resolution on Cruncyroll content so you are stuck using the 480P resolution. Again, I hope that in future updates this imitation will disappear or Cruncyroll will grow more intelligent and sense how fast the users internet connection is in order to automatically display the optimal resolution.
Crunchyroll also has Apps for the iOS devices, iPhone; iPod Touch; and iPad, which enables users to stream onto those devices. I reviewed the iPhone App when it came out in January but since then the updates have eliminated a few of the problems that the original had, the biggest being that the App will resume exactly where you left off when the user receives a Phone call. But some of the problems are still there including the heavy amount of Ads and the limitation that prevents streaming over the 3G cellular data network. The iPad app is very similar to the iPhone app except with a much better designed interface and, of course, the larger screen.
The problem with both of the Apps, especially the iPad version, is that they are prone to crashing before, during, or after the ad is displayed. Simply signing up for a premium membership causes the problem to magically go away! Crunchyroll has made a conscious decision to give users without the premium membership a poor user experience because of the bad implementation of the pre-roll ads. That is a silly decision from a business perspective because those users who try the App without the premium account and have a bad experience probably won’t pay to upgrade. It’s a shame too because both of the apps, when ads are disabled, are fantastic streaming services for the platform. The one annoying bug I experienced on the iPad was its tendency to stop streaming. I don’t know what causes it, maybe stopping the video or losing connection to wifi for a second, but it simply doesn’t resume downloading after the event and I was forced to exit the video, reload it, and return to the position where the video stopped. Not a terrible bug, but annoying.
The iPad offers a similar UI to the Cruncyroll website as opposed to the condensed version on the iPhone application. Browsing through the shows is a treat when paired with the detailed art Crunchyroll provides. It is a shame that these applications are unusable without the premium account and I hope Crunchyroll is moving to fix the bug in future updates but until then anyone with an iOS device that they plan to watch anime on should get a premium account and experience the Crunchyroll streaming Applications.
Crunchyroll offers the best content in the streaming anime world at the highest quality possible. However, it is limited by the technology they use to power the site. The front page is a mess, the video player is far inferior to the competition, and there is currently no easy way to view the content on a large TV. However, the site is being constantly improved. As I wrote above, in the month I’ve had with Crunchyroll most of the major bugs or UI problems I found were patched away. I have confidence that the company will push forward and continue to refine their product because I’ve seen it, because I’ve become frustrated by having to change parts of this review to reflect the newest version of the site.
Would I recommend Crunchyroll? Well, I’m sorry to say that it is conditional. If you are the type of person who watches all their anime on a computer than there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a Crunchyroll premium subscription. However, if you are used to watching DVDs on a large television there is no reason why you should sacrifice the screen size and comfort in order to experience Crunchyroll. But being willing to invest in a HTPC or the upcoming D-Link Boxee Box will enable you to do both and I highly recommend giving that idea at least a thorough investigation. After my time with Crunchyroll I definitely want to build my own HTPC and experience the HD content in the size that HD content was meant to be displayed in. Finally, if you ever intend to watch Crunchyroll on an iOS device than there is no questioning that you should have a premium membership because the Apps simply will not function correctly without one.
- High Definition option for newer shows
- Simulcasts available only hours after aired in Japan
- Simulcast countdowns and calendars keep you informed of new show arrivals
- Excellent streaming experience on iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
- Constantly being updated and improved
- Automated “Watching” list allows user to keep track of where they are in shows
- Boxee offers a fantastic “lean back” UI for Cunrchyroll content
- Chaotic front page overwhelms rather than informs
- iOS Apps are frustrating without premium membership
- Outdated video player causes several minor annoyances during use
- No simple way to view content on a television
Header image via Anime Vice